The imperative to learn: Nepal today
The imperative to learn: Nepal today

In the field of development, and more recently, humanitarian aid, the belief that activity is by definition necessarily positive is no longer commonly held. This is not yet fully recognised in the area of human rights. Despite the explosion of UN human rights field activity since the early 1990s, none of its key components fielding human rights field operations has effective mechanisms to ensure they learn from experience.

The IHRN paper Nepal: Learning from UN Human Rights Fieldwork draws together analysis of international human rights field presences through the voices of five societies afflicted by armed conflict: El Salvador, Guatemala, Rwanda, Burundi and Colombia. It outlines their perceptions of the UN human rights operations they have hosted. The five country case studies illustrate that seemingly disparate conflict situations (and the human rights issues such conflicts raise) have more in common than divides them.

Parallels that suggest themselves with Nepal include:

    • Multiple underlying causes of the conflicts
    • Gross violations/abuses committed by both sides in a climate of impunity,
    • A range of voices not directly involved in the conflict who have a stake in any solutions
    • The proposal for a human rights agreement pre-ceasefire
    • The dangers of militarisation of the wider population through village defence committees
    • A civil society mostly active in the capital
    • Widespread social-economic and political exclusion through discrimination (caste, social division, gender)
    • A population with low expectations regarding respect for their human rights; and

as was the case with Haiti, the suggestion that

    • Regime change is a pre-condition to human rights change.

In 2005, the latest internaitonal human rights mission is being extablished in Nepal. Yet, what has been the impact of the current approach over the last decade. What were the achievements and why, how can these be adapted and replicated; what are the failures, and how can we ensure they are not repeated.

The paper argues that accountability for its human rights impact is a legal imperative for the UN, as well as being essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of the efforts involved. Crucial elements include a system of meaningful participation of the host society in the design, implementation and evaluation of UN human rights fieldwork. The challenge is to identify, modify as appropriate, and act on such lessons so that Nepali efforts are reinforced, and not replaced.